BEAM: The Media Won’t Let Up On Romney

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney can’t seem to catch a break from the national news media. Some say he doesn’t deserve one because of the kind of campaign he is waging, but there is a legitimate fairness issue in the way Romney is being treated.

Romney admitted his recent remarks at a May fundraiser were “not elegantly stated.” That’s where he said President Obama has the support of 47 percent of Americans who are dependent on government and believe they are victims. Romney said he didn’t expect to receive support from those voters.

OK, he said it and has since explained he isn’t writing off any voters and would be president for all Americans. Some will accept his explanation. Others won’t. If they don’t, they certainly have the right to hammer him with what he said as often as they like.

What bugs Romney supporters is the way the national media keep bringing up the candidate’s gaffes. Some news outlets retrieved an old clip of Obama saying he believes in redistribution of wealth and another recent one when he said government makes people what they become. Like Romney, the president clarified that latter statement and it eventually faded from daily news reports.

Not so with Romney. Veteran CBS newsman Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation” brought up the 47 percent comments again Sunday, and with Bill Clinton of all people. And Schieffer gave Clinton 30 minutes to criticize Romney and promote Obama.

Clinton is a newsmaker, but he’s a Democrat and Obama booster first. And that is quite a switch. Clinton didn’t have any kind words for Obama four years ago when Hillary Clinton was running for the Democratic nomination.

Schieffer interviewed three Republicans during the GOP nominating convention and asked them how they were going to get over some of the issues and candidate miscues that were hurting the Romney campaign. One of them told Schieffer it wasn’t easy because people like him kept bringing them up time and time again.

“60 Minutes” interviewed both Romney and Obama Sunday evening, and it was — for the most part — a balanced approach. Scott Pelley of “CBS Evening News” continued to badger Romney as he has done previously, but Romney held his own. Steve Kroft, a great interviewer, did the Obama piece, and it’s one of the few times I’ve seen anyone hit the president with some tough questions.

No one is surprised to see MSNBC openly promote Obama and Fox News defend conservatives. With those 24-hour channels you know what you’re getting. However, can’t we have more balance from the networks and The Associated Press? The AP is a news cooperative owned by American newspapers and broadcasters. It promotes itself as holding a “commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.”

One of our readers asked me recently if we could take campaign reports from the AP off our front page because they were promoting Obama day in and day out.

Looking at the front pages over a four-day period, I could see why the reader was disturbed.

“Housing report boosts Obama,” said the headline on Sept. 20. “Obama: Romney out of touch,” was the Sept. 21 headline. “Romneys paid $1.94 million in taxes for 2011,” was the topic of the Sept. 22 story. And the headline on Sept. 23 was, “Obama mocks ‘top-down economics.’ ”

Presidents always make news, and it isn’t unusual to see stories about them on Page 1. However, those who write about political campaigns should be as balanced and objective as possible and try to achieve some semblance of fairness.

The one thing that got me in hot water in my early years in this business was my occasional failure to contact “the other side” when a public official or someone else came under attack in our newspaper. Balance is the great measuring stick in any news story.

Editorials and personal columns are another matter, but readers are aware they aren’t news because they appear on opinion pages. Not so with content on other pages of the newspaper.

Romney has received his headlines, too, but the media and the Obama campaign won’t let him escape the fact he’s got money, as if that’s sinful. Consider how the AP began its story of Sept. 22:

“Mitt Romney, one of the wealthiest candidates ever to seek the presidency, paid nearly $2 million in federal taxes on the $13.7 million in income reported for himself and his wife last year, his U.S. returns showed Friday.”

Those of us who have been around for a few years can remember other presidents who came from privilege and wealthy families — like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and George Herbert Walker Bush. The news outlets in those days were a different breed, but now the big thing is to be first with the “gotcha” story.

I love the way the dictionary describes that term. It says “gotcha” is “used to express satisfaction at having captured or defeated someone or uncovered their faults.”

Everyone seeking public office deserves a fair shake. When candidates make dumb statements, like both Romney and Obama have done, they should be called to task and the remarks publicized. However, Romney’s mistakes shouldn’t be cast in stone by the media as eternal reminders of human failings that none of us can avoid.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].

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